At what age should parents start disciplining children?

Help - my child is annoying!

Define “nerves” precisely: Which behavior disturbs me?

Ms. F. had warned me on the phone that Laura would probably not be of any help; she had already been to the child psychologist with her: contrary to expectations, he had not diagnosed any hyperactivity. She shifts restlessly as she gives a detailed report of the actions of her 4 ½ year old daughter. "Laura just annoys me," she ends with a sigh. Nerves is a very general term and the next step involves clarifying the term: What does it mean for Ms. F. personally? A short time later she worked out what her personal problem is: “It drives me crazy when Laura interrupts me all the time, it makes me stress when she drops the food, it costs me unnecessarily energy to keep everything to her explain ... in one word, "to annoy" means: behavior is too strenuous for me, makes me angry, is too much for me, is beyond my strength and my limits! "

Which (own) behavior can I turn off and which cannot?

“You have already mentioned a few things that make an effort. Let's see what kind of behavior Laura is bothering you! " Ms. F. draws up a detailed list of Laura's disruptive actions. Then the list is divided into two categories: "What can you turn off, what is inevitable?" Before starting the task, I ask Ms. F., who seems much more relaxed, to put herself in her daughter's shoes: What can a little girl of her age already understand? What not yet? What can it already do and what not yet? In this way the mother works out what she can turn off and what she should accept without resentment and bad words based on her daughter's level of development. After each item on the list, she writes a plus for “can I turn it off” and a minus for “is inevitable”.

Ms. F. shows a lot of empathy: "She's not that good at eating - it's completely unnecessary for me to get upset if something falls down on her." Pull on the phone line? “It's true, sometimes I talk very long. But there is no rule about this either. Laura doesn't know exactly what I like and what I don't like. " Endless explanations? "Can I save it, she doesn't understand half of it or it confuses her!" Keep climbing on the vacuum cleaner when mother wants to vacuum? "Doesn't have to be - but she just likes it so much, and sometimes I find it funny, but not always." Never mind, there can also be situations like this - sometimes behavior is okay, sometimes not, depending on how you're in shape. To draw artificially rigid boundaries is not the point. "But if it bothers me, I have to get it across more clearly - otherwise it comes out in a different place than anger!" Ms. F. makes personal notes behind each point.

At the end of the session I give her a question that she can ask herself in the respective situation: "Do I want this - or do I not want that?" Answering the question can give her clarity as to whether her daughter's behavior is desirable or whether her is causing stress. The clarity about your feelings is a prerequisite that you can express a clear yes or no to Laura and protect yourself against the “nerves” of the child in the respective situation. For most parents, it is already a great relief to define and work out the behaviors that they can turn off. Another relief is the knowledge that the child's “nerves” are no longer a confusing mass of unwanted, random events in the daily routine that leave parents dead tired at the end of the day, but can be dealt with with the help of the list and point by point is.

Children are not little adults

Not all parents have empathetic understanding for their child like Ms. F. Many couples only get in contact with children when their own children come and already perceive normal child behavior as “annoying”. So Mr. and Mrs. S.-G .: "There's no such thing as everything Daniel falls down. You can't read the newspaper for five minutes because he's constantly pulling himself up by his trouser legs. You just can't turn it off! " In addition, there are apartments that are not suitable for children: “The white couch looks like a nightmare from his hands!” In such cases I use humor and reply: “You know, my father-in-law likes to say:“ You can only set up after the children are out of the house - only then the grandchildren come! ” Here it is important to carefully create an understanding for the needs and characteristics of children, sometimes not an easy task for parents who have spent most of their lives alone or as a couple.

Feelings of guilt as a trigger for “annoying” behavior

Another obstacle to stopping annoying behavior can be feelings of guilt: "Can we really lock Mario in a playpen?" asks me, horrified. "It depends. Your child is guided by your emotions: He looks at your face while you sit in it. Depending on what you convey to Mario, it will likely be comfortable or uncomfortable for him, ”I reply. "That would be practical," says Ms. K. Since Mario has grown tall for his age and has meanwhile become too heavy for Ms. K. in a sling, the couple has no alternatives for certain situations. So they decide to just give it a try after I was able to assure them that we are not aware of any mental harm caused by staying in the playpen.

For another “annoying” situation, the parents work out an alternative: In order to avoid disruptive behavior from Mario when doing housework, he is involved and taught in a child-friendly manner. From an early age he is given development-oriented tasks that contribute to family life. But there is a sensitive phase in small children at the age of around 1½ to 2 years. “A tip that has helped us a lot,” said the K. couple four weeks later. "But it's not that easy - you have to stay tuned."

"If you let your house go to waste, you reap the wind!" (Bible, Proverbs 11:29)

An insight that should be implemented as early as possible: Children cost strength through self-discipline and consistency, which should be worsened even after a long day at work. Parents often overwhelm themselves and their children through premature or strenuous work, which leaves no strength for the upbringing of the children and leads to stressful domestic situations being perceived as excessively exhausting. In addition, children are not taught how to do housework, as it seems easier to do everything themselves. A negative cycle develops when children prove to be inappropriately dependent on their own needs with increasing age: Since there is a lot of housework after work and on the weekend, there is no strength and time to raise children, which leads to the children being exhausted in their independence (“Annoying”), which in turn leaves no time for education to become independent, etc. A “no” pronounced out of tiredness or an instruction, the execution of which is not followed up, makes children doubt the seriousness of their parents. Talking is still not everything in education. If you say no, but do not ensure that it is complied with, words uttered by the parents become worthless. The result: the child no longer takes the parents' instructions seriously.

Clear messages are a guide

Samy's parents (6) complain that he doesn't obey at all - he annoys endlessly, does what he wants and doesn't listen to them. We spend the following hour together over lunch in order to clarify the problem through observation, which could not be ascertained in the conversation without him. In the restaurant there is a stack of painting sheets in front of Samy, who first paints, then prefers to scoop water out of the glass with his hand and smear the painted sheet with it. His parents, completely absorbed in their conversation, only become attentive through me and react violently and with ironic remarks: “Well, Samy, really great, you're a piglet!” so the father. Samy hardly turns his eyes from the page and continues patting undeterred. The mother: “My goodness, Samy, it all costs money! Do you play the painter, really unique. It really doesn't have to be. " Both tone of voice are half serious, half ironic and have no effect: Samy does not react in the slightest, but calmly continues to soak the sheet of paper with drinking water. I take notes and notice that the parents go back to their conversation.

In the following hour I greet you and give you the following message in an ironic tone: “You are really great, unique! It doesn't have to be real, it all costs money. " Both parents look down, confused, and give no answer. I hand them a piece of paper and pen with the request to write down what feelings my message triggered in them: "The intensity was confusing," said Mr. E., "I didn't understand what it was all about!"

Both parents are unsure about parenting. They do not know how far they can intervene in the child's actions without "damaging them for life". Because of this uncertainty, they sometimes react very violently, sometimes with irony. I point them out to the little scene in the inn and ask them to transfer their feelings to the child's world. They react very baffled: "Samy doesn't understand us - he doesn't even know what we want from him!"

Your feelings are guides to your limits

In the following hour we work out who is responsible for Samy's upbringing: "That would mean we would be the measure of all things!" exclaims Mr. E. surprised. "On the other hand - who else should raise our child - if not us?" After this preparatory work, we continue in the usual way with the definition of “nerves” and working out what exactly bothers the parents about the child's behavior and which feelings are triggered by the behavior: Ms. E. is embarrassed that Samy puts his hand in the water glass in public. Then the parents learn to utter clear I-messages in a serious tone, such as: "Samy, we are embarrassed when you splash with water in front of everyone here." If Samy does not react, the parents reserve the right to take his hand or remove the water glass. Because words have to be followed by actions in which children can see: "What mom says, she means seriously." Only then do children who are deaf parents give their parents a hearing again.

The example may sound extreme, but quite a few parents who visit us are so uncertain about their responsibility for the upbringing of their child. Since we have usually not learned to express feelings, it is difficult at first, but can be learned with a little practice.

Who is late ...

However, it is perfectly normal for children not to hear. We adults are no better! Here is one possibility that can help against this, it is: "Everyone bears the consequences of his own actions." That means: If you don't empty the organic trash can, you also have to wipe the floor when the waste falls out. Anyone who breaks something repairs it (with the help of parents if necessary). Anyone who makes something dirty makes it clean again. Such consequences are realistic and instructive and we know from our own experience that you can start with them from 1 ½ years. Nevertheless, there are areas where children need to be protected from the consequences of their actions, e.g. a small child cannot go out without a jacket because it cannot establish the connection between the cold today and the fever tomorrow. Here adults should be aware of their responsibility towards health and against dangers for the child and intervene accordingly.

Quarrel as a permanent server

“I'm going to have another nervous breakdown. My two are permanently quarreling! " exclaims Ms. Z. Nerve-wracking disputes between the children cannot always be resolved by separating the children - everyone goes to their room. Sometimes deeper causes have to be found. Fraternal jealousy can be one cause of long-term quarrels, tension in the parental relationship, a previous separation or divorce can be another. Here it helps to address the tense or confusing situation with the children and to let them talk about their feelings by expressing themselves about it like this: “You are jealous of your little sister and would like to have all the toys for you alone ”or in the other case:“ I'm also sad that Daddy is gone. ” Suppressed feelings can turn into aggression. Sensitive listening is required here, which can bring relaxation.

Another cause can be that a child tries to raise the other and thus rises to the parent level, a position that he is not entitled to in the family structure and that would be overwhelming in the long run. This is the reason for the Z. family: the elder Dirk tries to raise his little sister, who vehemently fights against these attacks. At the same time he takes out rights that he is not entitled to: So he gives himself more and better toys that the sister does not accept. Ms. Z. works out strategies to take the son out of the parenting role by saying to him in appropriate situations: “You don't need to raise Silke. This is my task. You just go play! " During the consultation, it becomes clear to Ms. Z that Dirk has taken on the role that his father does not play. On our advice, Mr Z. comes to a consultation and receives impulses from man to man about his role in the family. After less than three months the situation has eased: “Our house blessing is finally hanging straight!”

Disputes can also have causes that can be resolved more quickly: Too little exercise, aggression after enjoying the computer and television. This is where rules such as: "Everyone has to romp around for at least an hour in the fresh air after a movie / computer game." Especially boys can strain parents with their urge to move, which breaks through constant disputes or carelessness in the apartment. However, cramped living conditions are no reason to accept that: The situation with the R. family has eased considerably since the three sons have been training regularly in a sports club.

Self-employment has to be learned

Parents feel annoyed by children who are not able to occupy themselves: “Timo strokes around me like a cat. He just can't do himself alone, he always needs my attention! " On the one hand, independent play should not be expected from children too early; on the other hand, self-employment is a demanding achievement that can only be learned through social learning, i.e. through the guidance of a role model. My mother taught us to give voices to our play animals and to let them act, and I automatically passed this knowledge on to my son, who - sibling as he initially remained - devotedly played these games alone until he brought them to kindergarten. First and only children in particular need patient guidance for self-employment.

Cluttered rooms can be a reason children “stick” to adults. Ms. E., mother of four children between the ages of 2 and 10: “If their rooms are messy, the children don't feel comfortable and start to squirm around my kitchen. If I clean up with them, they play happily on. "

Bad behavior? - No thanks!

Bad behavior such as smacking your lips and speaking with full cheeks, interrupting your word, etc. can be annoying - bad habits too! Upbringing means, among other things, giving guidance, correction and orientation so that children are later able to integrate into a social environment instead of being offended and being harmed by corresponding counter-reactions from the environment. Here, too, it is important to maintain patience and perseverance.

We would like to mention that parents can get annoyed when they discover habits or idiosyncrasies in their child that they do not like about themselves or that they do not notice about themselves: “Above all, it annoys me”, says Mr D. , "That Lars-Benedict always leaves his things in the bathroom." His wife calls out spontaneously: “How? You do that yourself! ”. Mr D. laughs with her, but finds it difficult to believe her.Only one thing helps here: Help people to help themselves! In this case, annoying behavior can be turned off much better by a good role model than by changing the child - unfortunately ...!

Tips: This is how you can reduce "nerves"

  • Define the nerve: What is too strenuous, too much for me? Where is it beyond my strength, beyond my limit? Which situation exactly? Which behavior exactly? Write down the individual situations.
  • Define for each situation: what can I turn off and what cannot? What can a child of this age already do, what does it already understand, what not? Put yourself in the child's shoes and distinguish which behavior you can stop and what you should (still) accept.
  • Develop strategies for reacting to situations and actions that are perceived as stressful: Now you already know what you want to change: Work out alternative strategies for action - possibly with your partner, a friend or an experienced mother: What feelings does the behavior in question trigger from me? Does a clear I-message help? What should it be? Are appropriate actions necessary, such as removing the hand, an object, temporary relief through help or a playpen, etc.?
  • Ask yourself about feelings of guilt: Where do feelings of guilt prevent me from protecting myself from stressful situations? Am I afraid of circumcising the child in their freedom or having problems recognizing that I am responsible for their upbringing? Make yourself aware or give yourself up in prayer.
  • Ask yourself about self-imposed overload: Do I put stress / pressure on myself at work or in my private life that leads to a decrease in my tolerance levels for stressful situations at home?
  • Long-term dispute: Clarify the causes of long-term quarrels between siblings (possibly through counseling) and develop appropriate strategies to counter this (tidying up the room, refurnishing, expressing feelings, separating children, ensuring movement, clarifying conflicts between children, etc.).
  • Self-employment: Instruct them - especially first and single children - persistently and lovingly to keep themselves busy.
  • Be disciplined and set a good example: The following still applies: Actions that are visible to children are more successful than words!
  • Educate the children on the basis of their decisions in an age-appropriate manner so that they do not have to justify each action individually.

More articles by the author here in our family handbook


Beatrice Bachmann, M.A., heads the Association for Christian Marriage and Family Work with the aim of divorce prevention. According to the biblical concept, this offers marriage counseling, marriage seminars and seminars on marriage counselors.

Books: "Handbook of marriage and family counseling", "Time management for the family" and others


Beatrice Bachmann, M.A.
Christian marriage and family work CEF e.V.
Schlossstrasse 18th
88441 Mittelbiberach

Tel. 07351/300 37 36



Created on December 9th, 2003, last changed on February 19th, 2016